PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — As employers, businesses and schools deal with the dangers of opening during the coronavirus pandemic, some are asking people to sign liability waivers.
This prevents places from being sued if someone comes down with the virus. Should you sign something like that?
KDKA took that question to Ron Jones, who practices law at Jackson Kelly law-firm in Pittsburgh.
Jones specializes in liability defense and has attended numerous virtual conferences about these types of forms. He says the answer isn’t clear cut.
In general, waivers are admissible in Pennsylvania despite the state not addressing this, according to Jones. Waivers could not be admissible in cases of the owners being negligent or reckless.
Jones also told KDKA not everyone issuing a coronavirus liability form will ask you not to sue.
However, some forms do include what’s called an exculpatory clause, which if signed, frees the issuer from liability.
“Exculpatory clauses are frowned upon, but they are admissible so long as it passes a three-prong test,” said Jones.
The waiver can’t violate public policy and has to be a private affair between parties and can’t be of interest to the state or public.
Additionally, for a waiver to be legitimate, Jones said CDC guidelines need to be followed and steps must be taken to ensure one’s safety. Employers can’t turn somebody down for a job if they don’t promise to not sue.
And it can’t be a contract of adhesion, where those with bigger bargaining power use a take-it-or-leave-it deal.
Jones said examples of this would be taking away a scholarship or kicking somebody off a sports team if they don’t sign.
“It’s up to the premise owner, business owner or university to have protocols to ensure they are being safe,” said Jones.
If somebody does issue a COVID-19 waiver and a person does sign, Jones said that doesn’t mean a suit can’t be filed.
A person may still have an argument, especially through gross negligence.
“You can’t stop a lawsuit from being filed. It just might end earlier if you don’t have a case or if it’s frivolous,” said Jones.
Jones said to read the fine print and know what mitigation plans are in place before putting yourself at risk.
“Regarding whether you should sign, I cannot answer that because everyone’s situation is different. We are in a situation where there is no vaccine,” Jones said. “There is a battle between health and safety vs economy. We need a hybrid of the two. The best thing you can do is use a risk/benefit analysis.”
Currently, there is no precedent set in the state of Pennsylvania pertaining to these waivers.
Litigators are basing their judgment on prior cases involving similar documents.
For more answers to more COVID-19 related legal questions, click here.